Heacham beach huts group slam rent hike

Some of the beach huts in Heacham which could now become the subject of a legal battle
Some of the beach huts in Heacham which could now become the subject of a legal battle

Steep increases in beach hut users’ rent in Heacham amounts to “ongoing abuse by the council”, a group has claimed.

Representatives of Heacham Beach Hut Association (HBHA) have said they are looking at a 10 per cent hike in rent prices this year, following a 27 per cent rise last year.

But West Norfolk Council officials have said the rent represents “good value for money”.

Members of the association had contacted the council earlier in the month to say they felt that any increases above inflation or council tax would be “unacceptable”.

Following the news that the rent is set to go up 10.5 per cent this year, chairwoman of HBHA Sally Pearse said: “I cannot condone another double digit rise in rent. Last year’s 27 per cent rise was far too high an increase year on year. The 2018 rent for beach hut leaseholds should only rise in line with council tax or inflation.”

Ms Pearse said she hoped the association and the council would be able to agree on a rent increase cap.

“I do hope we can agree a 2018 rent increase capped at three per cent RPI (Retail Price Index) and then move forward as a collective to make Heacham beach front a tourist destination for all the right reasons,” she added.

“The beach hut association will not accept this ongoing abuse of beach hut rent by the council.”

Terry Parish, who represents Heacham as a borough and parish councillor, said: “It seems that beach huts in Heacham have become a market commodity – a sad state of affairs which seems to have aggravated by policy.”

A West Norfolk Council spokeswoman said the authority has a “statutory duty to achieve the best value possible” for their assets.

“Historically, under the terms of the old lease, the rents on the beach hut sites increased annually in line with the Retail Price Index (RPI),” she said.

“This resulted in nominal increases which did not always increase at the same rate as the market rate.

“When the leases were renewed in 2016, an option was included that gave us the right to review the rent to the greater of either RPI or the market rate.

“We invited parties interested in the seven vacant beach hut sites to submit rental offers from a minimum level of £300pa + VAT (the rent at the time of the exercise).

“We received six bids at varying levels. We took the average (£380pa + VAT) as representative of a fair rate and advised all the tenants of the increase.

“Under the terms of the lease which all parties signed in 2016, the rent determined by the authority is final.

“Rents will continue to be reviewed annually and will be increased with effect from 1 April 2018 to a minimum level of £420pa + VAT).”

Alistair Beales, cabinet member for corporate projects and assets, said: “I am satisfied that the market has been tested and the new rents are indeed a fair reflection of market value.”

Mr Beales said there are still people on a waiting list for these sites.

“We had offers in excess of the £380 rent for the last site advertised on Rightmove, proving that the new rent level has not affected demand or interest,” he added.

“The provision of these sites is not a statutory service. It is a commercial activity, for which we have to apply market values.”